Original Research

Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 459-471

First online:

The Psychic Costs of Empathic Engagement: Personal and Demographic Predictors of Genetic Counselor Compassion Fatigue

  • Sharanya UdipiAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • , Patricia McCarthy VeachAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota Email author 
  • , Juihsien KaoAffiliated withDepartment of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota
  • , Bonnie S. LeRoyAffiliated withDepartment of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development, Institute of Human Genetics, University of Minnesota

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Empathic connection with one’s patients is essential to genetic counselor clinical practice. However, repeatedly engaging with distressed patients may cause compassion fatigue, a phenomenon characterized as feeling overwhelmed by experiencing patients’ suffering. In order to extend findings of an initial qualitative study, we surveyed 222 genetic counselors about their compassion fatigue and factors that predict its occurrence. Multiple regression analysis identified seven significant predictors accounting for 53.7% of the variance in compassion fatigue. Respondents at higher risk of compassion fatigue were more likely to report being burned out, using self-criticism and giving up to manage stress, experiencing a greater variety of distressing clinical events, having larger patient caseloads, relying on religion as a coping strategy, having no children, and seeking support to manage stress. Respondents also provided critical incidents regarding their compassion fatigue and themes in these incidents are described. Practice and research recommendations are provided.


Genetic counselor compassion fatigue Empathy Stress Burnout Coping Self-care Countertransference